What is photography? One place to look for the answer is a dictionary. The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary describes photography as ‘the art or practice of taking and processing photographs’.
Mirriam-Webster is a little more specific: ‘the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor)’.
But what these rather dry definitions lack is an insight into the art and soul of photography. To make things a little more personal, I asked myself what photography means to me.
It may help you understand my point of view if you know a little more about me. I’ve been involved in photography for over 20 years now, ever since my parents bought me a Ricoh KR-10m camera one christmas. Now I’m fortunate enough to make a living from it. Not as a pro photographer, but as an author writing about the artistic and technical aspects of photography. Photography is a major part of my life, one of my major passions.
The first thing that photography did all those years ago was give me a hobby. Photography has given me something to do and learn about in my spare time for many years. It must add up to many thousands of hours of enjoyment. Twenty years on I’m still learning.
A friend of mine once told me that the place she lived in is boring. That may be true, but I think what she was really saying is that she lacks something to do in her spare time. Life is better when we have a purpose, something interesting to look forward to at the weekend. Photography gives me that sense of purpose.
Photography also gives me creative fulfilment. It helps me express myself artistically, and that’s a wonderful thing. Creativity is a major part of my life. I write articles and ebooks for a living, and built a website to support the business.
Creativity is strongly linked with purpose. I enjoy making beautiful images, from the time I go out with my camera through to processing the images in Lightroom or Photoshop. It’s a good feeling when those images are used to illustrate my articles and ebooks too.
Photography also gives me a reason to travel and explore new places. Most people get the pleasure of memorable experiences when they travel somewhere new or go on holiday. I also get to put my creativity, and my love for photography, into action. I can’t help feeling that I get more out of my experiences because of this. For example, between 2001 and 2009 I spent a lot of time in South America. The best of my images from that period ended up in an ebook called Andes. Writing about some of my experiences, and putting together an ebook, made my various journeys there much more rewarding.
Photography also helps me meet new people. Some of those people are online contacts, some are people that I’ve met in real life. Some of these are people interested in photography, some are models who have gone on to become friends. This has helped make my life more interesting, and I’m grateful for that.
On a deeper level photography helps me see the beauty in the world. I feel awe when I see other people’s beautiful photos. It creates an awareness of just how big, diverse and beautiful our planet is. It inspires me by giving me ideas about places I’d like to travel to in the future, or photos that I’d like to take for myself. Someone suggested to me once that photographers, as artists, are privileged to be able to see and record some of the beauty in the world. It’s an interesting idea, and while some photographers do concentrate on photographing the ugly side of life, for those of us that search out the beauty in the world it’s an enriching experience.
Photography is informative as well as inspirational. There is a documentary side to the craft. It helps me see how other people in the world live. I always find photos of people living in other countries interesting. People living elsewhere can be so different, yet so similar in many ways. One of my favourite magazines is National Geographic. The images within its pages have moved, amazed and inspired me over the years.
Unfortunately, photography also informs me about some of the bad things that happen in the world. War photography specifically comes to mind. While I could never be a war photographer, and I have no real interest in recording some of the more downbeat aspects of society, I am grateful to the photographers that do, especially those who risk their lives in the process. Their photos might not be comfortable to look at, but they bring events that are causing human suffering to the world’s attention. That can’t be a bad thing, and hopefully the publicity drives efforts to bring some of the bad things in the world to a halt.
Finally, I’m grateful to photography as it has helped me make a living for the last four years. I started working as a writer for EOS magazine, then turned freelance a little over two years ago. I run a successful business and that’s very empowering. Photography is a journey, on both personal and literal levels, and I’m looking forward to finding out where it will take me next.
What does your photography mean to you? Tell us in the comments below.
Andrew S Gibson is a writer and photographer currently living in Wellington, New Zealand. He writes ebooks and articles about photography and also enjoys travelling – he has lived in the UK, China and New Zealand during the last few years.